One Friday evening, I went in to our back garden while holding a cup of tea and a lovely jam and cream scone. I don’t need to go any further into detail about how I felt the whole world was at peace – those acquainted with the British culture know the feeling too well.
Needless to say, this momentary peace came to an end, firstly because I finished my cup of tea and scone, and also some of the realities of life came to memory. The peace I had felt just a few moments ago gave way to the panic of preparing for Newday, as well as general day-to-day life challenges.
I recall having a similar feeling as we went through the Spirit Break Out series - I couldn’t help but notice how I compared the events at the early church with the Church today. From thousands being baptised, to new churches planted in new towns and cities, I couldn’t help but focus on the positives of the early church and the alleged shortfalls of today’s Church. The last time I heard hundreds were baptised at once was when some church leaders from India were sharing with others at the Together on a Mission (TOAM) conference in Brighton about what God was doing in their churches.
Whilst we may have all experienced feelings similar to these at times, many fail to acknowledge that, very often, we focus on and enlarge the negative/more challenging side of life. Perhaps even the most optimistic among us would agree to this. According to the Swedish thinker Rosling, we’re bound to have a pessimistic view of the world around us. Now, I’m not trying to convince us that the world is a jolly place where everything is hunky-dory, but it’s not as depressing as some try to make it look like.
Whilst that was how things worked in the early church, I find it extremely difficult to accept that the Church has failed continuously throughout history (including modern day) to receive the presence of God and be the agent of change in the society. We have many things in common with the early church; from the very same Holy Spirit at work, to similar challenges they grappled with. The other thing that is similar is the mission field before us. So, while the areas where we live in are not new geographical territories for the Gospel, we nevertheless find ourselves on the frontiers of an ideological mission field. That is, many people around us have no place for Jesus in the way they view the world, and have never properly heard the Gospel. We suddenly find ourselves on a mission field the early church had to travel hundreds of miles to get to. The question is, how much of our lives revolve around the mission of Jesus? The Great Commission of “go to them” has been made easier by many people coming to our doorsteps, and we need to take this opportunity to bring the Gospel to an increasingly post-Christian society, build relationships and preach the Gospel in a context that is accessible to those with a different worldview – that is, our neighbours, friends and family who do not know Jesus yet. The public truth of the Gospel must not be confined to the walls of our private lives. After all, Jesus always tells the truth, and he said that,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”John 14:12
I’m still trying to work out what Jesus meant by ‘greater works’, but was struck with these words of the Persian poet Hafez:
And the one put on the cross by his race
His crime, secrets of God would unveil
Anyone who is touched by God’s grace
Can do what Christ did, without fail.
It sounds too good to be true, but this has happened throughout history since the first church in Jerusalem was persecuted. Those scattered believers planted new churches in the places where they settled.
The age old question of whether Christmas gets earlier each year. Perhaps it points to something deeper than we think.